Review: Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 1: The Neighborhood hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)


I really like the approach inherent in Mariko Tamaki’s Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 1: The Neighborhood, and all in all I consider this debut volume a success. Insofar as the book adheres to the “A Bat of the People” moniker splashed at the top of the back of the book, Neighborhood and I are good; when Neighborhood deviates from that is where it starts to lose me.

But I appreciate Tamaki’s afterword where she outlines her thinking for the book, and indeed this just comes down to simple difference in what one wants from a Batman story, with Tamaki surely representing a greater swath of the audience. I see now, surprisingly, that Tamaki’s Detective run is already scheduled to close, but I’m eager to read more like this before it does.

[Review contains spoilers]

As Tamaki describes, the events of Batman Vol. 2: Joker War see Bruce Wayne, if not necessarily in the poorhouse, in reduced enough financial straits that he forgoes stately Wayne Manor for a chic Gotham brownstone. Such leads to Bruce going where he’s never gone before … a casual get-together with his moneyed neighbors. This being a Batman story, of course, one of the neighbors is murdered, the rest are seemingly suspects, and things spiral out from there — Huntress is involved, and a Clayface, and the Penguin, and the bizarre super-strong criminal father of the murder victim. Plus buildings important to Gotham’s infrastructure keep getting blown up.

So far, so good. What we’ve got here is as much Batman (or, in the weird, gargantuan Mr. Worth, Dick Tracy) as it is Friends or Clue, maybe the tony murder-mystery aesthetic of something like Only Murders in the Building. It’s the twelve o' clock shadow Bruce Wayne I always associate with artist Greg Capullo (as drawn by Dan Mora and Viktor Bogdanovic) awkwardly trying to negotiate conversations with real people while also trying to solve a mystery (with the shadow of Gotham’s new vigilante-unfriendly mayor in the background), a kind of tied-in cozy Batman mystery. This is an exceptionally good use for Detective Comics and a great aesthetic from Tamaki.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

But problematically, as least for me, what seems after the first chapter to be a whodunit, even perhaps one where the clues are scattered among the panels, becomes by the third or so chapter a run-of-the-mill supernatural/sci-fi alien body snatcher story. So little attempt is being made for this to be an actual mystery that the culprit’s last name is actually “Vile.” The audience knows what’s going on way before the characters do and then we just hang around while they figure it out.

On one hand, there’s a smart juxtaposition here, where the “villain” that Batman deals with for most of the book is the grotesque, corrupt (and mortal) grieving father and not (until the very end) the alien menace. Tamaki’s attention is pleasantly, for my tastes at least, on the mundane and not on the extraordinary. But on the other hand, Tamaki writes in her afterword that “because it’s Batman, we added a monster.” Tamaki believes that sentiment to be true, and I’d even grant that for many readers, maybe it is. But this story would have ticked up significantly if the culprit was one of Bruce’s neighbors instead, no monsters involved.

And I’d even like to think I could be sold on the Vile monster, but when he finally comes to the fore, it felt as though the book gave up on him. A backup story by Tristan “T.Rex” Jones presents a child who inexplicably has an alien parasite within him — there’s some discussion of removing it, but everyone just seems to take as rote that there’s an alien attached to this kid’s spine (I hoped, to no avail, for a Bloodlines reference), nor does it seem an awful big coincidence that the alien-spine-kid’s mother becomes a raging murderer. That is the extent of the character development we get for Vile, not to mention that the murders we’ve been trying to solve are ultimately just random and meaningless.

Again, I see it — a low-tech Batman has to fight all kinds of human threats, culminating in an epic blowout with an alien menace; there is the mundane, the supernatural, the kind of dual threat that might work in a Batman/Superman team-up, even. Especially for the opening book, Tamaki should be commended. But perhaps my disappointment stems from what I see as the death of the modern whodunit — that Neighborhood showed potential but was not a whodunit; also Kami Garcia’s Joker/Harley: Criminal Sanity; also, I digress, I thought the culprit on Only Murders in the Building was too obvious, too. I tell you what, I have high hopes for Joker Presents: A Puzzlebox; would it have affected things so much for Tamaki not to have telegraphed Vile’s vileness from the outset?

This is by no means Tamaki’s doing, but also, I’m four or five books into the Infinite Frontier era and I have no greater insight for you as to what Dark Nights: Death Metal’s “I remember it all” means. We have Huntress here, great to see, but I’ve no idea if this is Huntress Helena Bertinelli, mobster’s daughter, or Huntress Helena Bertinelli, former agent of Spyral. She now knows Batman’s identity, which is deserved but I couldn’t quite place when she would have learned it. And assuredly, no mention is made of anyone “remembering it all” to the point of Huntress once being Batman’s daughter. Outside Infinite Frontier, I’ve yet to see anyone “remember it all” at all.



Anyway, again, given Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 1: The Neighborhood, I’m sorry to see Mariko Tamaki’s Detective run ending already (though not sorry to see Ram V coming on). Still, in that time Tamaki’s got a 12-parter with focus on the Bat-family, what seems like it could deliver the kind of groundedness I was hoping for here. Neighborhood surprised me with what it wasn’t, but maybe “Shadows of the Bat” won’t.

[Includes original and variant covers, afterword, character designs, cover processes, page inks]

Comments ( 4 )

  1. While I'm utterly burnt out on Batman being shoved down our throats, seeing Chip Zdarksy take over the main Batman title and Ram V for Detective Comic after Josh Williamson's Death of the Justice League, does bring me some excitement.

    1. Yes, same here.....really getting tired of everything DC being basically Batman or Batman centric. Even then, I am hoping that Chip Zdarsky and Ram V (both writers whose work I've been enjoying) will be able to revitalize my waning interest.

    2. I know Chip but is Ram V any good?

    3. Yes, Ram V is a really good to write lots of different types of stories/characters. He's written Justice League Dark, Catwoman, These Savage Shores (from Vault Comics...and I highly recommend this tpb), Swamp Thing (which has been really good so far), and the Many Deaths of Laila Starr and more. Well worth checking out his work.


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